Courts & Crime

Bad news for Missouri strip clubs: It's now illegal to bare all

KANSAS CITY — Missouri's exotic dancers who take it all off in public are now breaking the law.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem on Friday refused to temporarily block the state's strict new law regulating sexually oriented businesses, including strip clubs, adult bookstores and adult movie houses.

Beetem's decision meant the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Several adult entertainment venues contemplated closing early to comply with the law. Others planned to tell dancers to wear swimsuits.

Owners and operators of adult businesses called the decision devastating and wrong.

“There are a number of businesses that will absolutely have to shut down,” said Richard Bryant, a Kansas City attorney for several adult establishments.

Beetem's Friday morning order touched off an afternoon of scrambling by Bryant and his clients, who filed an appeal with the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals shortly after 4 p.m. Less than two hours later, an appeals judge ordered further arguments on that appeal, effectively locking the ruling into place at least through early next week.

“At least we’ll get to make our case,” Bryant said, while conceding the new law would be in place as of Saturday morning.

Supporters of the law did not claim victory. Beetem’s decision to let the law take effect will not end opponents’ efforts to overturn it in the courts, and further arguments on the underlying case will continue in September.

“This is one step along the way in a very lengthy legal battle,” said Sen. Matt Bartle, the Lee’s Summit Republican who has pushed the bill for years.

He added: “We feel like we have the stronger arguments all the way up.”

Attorney General Chris Koster, who defended the new law, applauded Beetem’s ruling.

Among other things, the new law:

_ Forces sexually oriented businesses to be closed between midnight and 6 a.m. seven days a week.

_ Prohibits full nudity in those businesses.

_ Prohibits touching of customers by semi-nude employees and requires semi-nude dancers to use a stage. (Semi-nudity is defined as female breasts exposed below the nipple or uncovered male or female buttocks.)

_ Forbids alcohol at sexually oriented businesses.

Dick Snow, owner of Bazooka’s Showgirls, 1717 Main St., said dancers wearing swimsuits would allow adult clubs to stay open past the midnight closing time.

“This is a horrible law,” Snow said, adding it would cost state and local governments tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill in late June.

Kansas City Police Department spokesman Rich Lockhart said enforcement of the new rules would likely be the responsibility of state liquor control officials, although local police officers might also be involved.

The new law isn’t limited to strip clubs. Adult bookstores, video stores and “adult arcades” also must be closed between midnight and 6 a.m. seven days a week.

Those businesses, as well as strip clubs, cannot operate closer than 1,000 feet to schools, churches, libraries, parks, day-care centers or other sexually oriented businesses, although existing adult businesses will not be forced to move if they violate the distance regulations.

In the order allowing the law to take effect, Beetem acknowledged that the adult businesses would suffer harm because of the law. But he said the businesses had not shown that they would probably win on the merits of the case or that letting the law take effect would harm the public interest.

He also noted the adult businesses waited until Aug. 10 to file their challenge, less than three weeks before the law was to take effect.

Businesses or individuals that don’t abide by the requirements could face misdemeanor charges punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.